NBA commissioner Adam Silver led the charge, waving a rainbow flag with the league’s logo on it at the front of the float. Almost 400 NBA employees either marched on or alongside the league’s float.
— The Players' Tribune (@PlayersTribune) June 25, 2017
“I just loved being on a float,” Silver told The New York Times. “If I had only known what it was like to be in a parade! I’ve been telling teams: ‘You’ve got to a win a championship, because being in a parade is unbelievable.’”
For Golden State Warriors CEO and president Rick Welts, it was his second parade in as many weeks. Welts, who became the first openly gay prominent American sports executive while with the Phoenix Suns in 2011, rode the float wearing a rainbow-colored Warriors-inspired “Proud Champions” T-shirt.
Welts told The New York Times that people from other NBA teams have sought advice about publicly coming out, and he hopes his openness helps serve as inspiration. Warriors superstar Kevin Durant tweeted his support for Welts on Sunday, helping that message reach those not at the parade.
— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) June 25, 2017
All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard were among other NBA players who tweeted their support:
— Kyrie Irving (@KyrieIrving) June 25, 2017
Jason Collins, who became the first openly gay active player in professional North American sports with his 2013 announcement in Sports Illustrated, also rode the float. So did referee Bill Kennedy, who came out publicly soon after former All-Star Rajon Rondo directed a gay slur at him in a 2015 game.
“It was an exhilarating thing to be able to know that the people that I work for and the company that I work for are as open and inclusive as they are,” Kennedy told The New York Times. “For me personally, it was a long time coming. So to be able to share and be out and be open and not worry about where you go or who you’re talking to — just drop the baggage, let it go and be you. That’s what this is about: Just be you.”
Since first participating in the parade last year, the NBA pulled its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte in protest of North Carolina’s HB2 law, which restricted LGBT rights. After legislators partially repealed the discriminatory law, the NBA granted Charlotte its 2019 All-Star Game, amid some controversy.
“I think there is a role that the league can play in demonstrating what equality looks like to a community,” Silver said in his annual state-of-the-league address at the Finals. “A new governor came in, and certainly he made the request directly to us that if they could make progress with the legislature, would we be willing to bring the game back.
“I think that trying to measure precisely whether it was enough progress, we ultimately felt it was. I respect those who feel we may have made the wrong decision, but I disagree factually for those who say that the change in the law was not an improvement, or some even said was worse. The fact is that under the change in the law in North Carolina, birth certificates were no longer required to use restrooms, and it also permitted us to take our All-Star Game to Charlotte and set a set of rules, a set of principles in which we were going to operate under in that state.
“Again, these are close calls for the league, but I think ultimately it’s that expression that sport imitates life. I think sometimes life can imitate sport. And I think that we can be in a position where we go in and say, this is what it looks like to operate under a set of egalitarian principles, and this is what it looks like to be nondiscriminatory, in this case against the LGBTQ community. And my hope is by setting that example, we can unify people and that the state will follow.”
In New York on Sunday, the WNBA’s Liberty followed behind the NBA’s float. The women’s league, which employs numerous openly gay players, participated in the parade for the fourth straight year. The Liberty were the first pro team franchise to feature its own float in the Pride March. In addition to seven players and associate head coach Katie Smith, former Detroit Pistons teammates and two-time NBA champs Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer — the WNBA team’s president and coach — participated.
“The WNBA is honored and privileged to celebrate the diversity of our fan base,” said WNBA President Lisa Borders, who also marched in the parade. “The league embraces the principles of equality and mutual respect and is always working to ensure an inclusive environment at our games and events.”
Thursday’s Connecticut Sun vs. Seattle Storm game marks the last of four nationally televised games during the WNBA’s Pride month festivities. The league sells Pride-inspired T-shirts — proceeds from which will be donated along with a $10,000 check to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
Orlando native and openly gay Liberty guard Shavonte Zellous was among the most vocal supporters following last June’s Pulse nightclub shooting, penning a heartfelt article for The Players’ Tribune.
“Gay clubs are more than places where people dance and drink,” Zellous wrote just over a year ago. “They are sanctuaries. They are communities. Gay clubs are where many go to find themselves or be themselves or commune with others like themselves, away from the judgment of the world outside.”
Sunday’s parade was meant to spread that sanctuary beyond the walls of a club and help rid the outside world of a little more judgment. The NBA played its part. Maybe other leagues should follow.
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